News from across RSC Publishing.
Interview: Solving polymer problems
30 September 2010
David Haddleton is Professor of Chemistry at the University of Warwick, UK. Professor Haddleton's research centres on creating polymers with the physical properties required to solve commercial and therapeutic problems
What led you to specialise in polymer chemistry?
Following my PhD in organometallic chemistry, I wanted to continue in research. I applied for about 40 post docs but there was a recession on so it was a tough time. Finally I was offered a position in Toronto, Canada that was sponsored by ICI. They were recruiting someone to work on polymers, which I actually knew little about but my thesis had the word ethene in the title so the guys at ICI figured I knew about polymerisation. Polymerisation is often about organometallics and alkenes and I knew about that because I knew alkenes were ligands and in polymerisation that's the first step towards making a vinyl polymer. I was an industrial chemist for about 5 years before I left to go to academia. Many things we work with are polymers but they are also organometallic. We also do lots with proteins and peptide chemistry so I hate the terms organic, inorganic, physical and polymer - we're all just chemists who make things.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
The ones we are most excited about at the moment are making polymers for biological and therapeutic applications. We also work on viscosity modifiers for engine oils for automotives. We work on polymers that go down oil wells to aid oil recovery. We work on polymers for personal products for hair gel and skin creams. Essentially we really like to work with peoples problems and see if we can design a polymer molecule to solve their problem.
As science becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, how do you see the future of science, and chemistry in particular, developing?
Science is interdisciplinary, I even dislike breaking chemistry down into different sections. Most things rely on molecular interactions. It doesn't matter if it's a biological or chemical or physical application - it's molecular and chemists deal with molecules. Science is becoming more interdisciplinary because some of the larger biological problems are no longer inaccessible to us. We have analytical techniques that allow us to probe these big molecules now.
At the other end of the scale, in physics, we also have instruments that can probe very small things. We are able to look at a single molecule and a single polymer molecule is nanometres long so any polymer chemistry is nanochemistry. Chemistry is at the heart of all science because it is all about molecules.
What are the hot topics in the field of polymer chemistry at the moment?
One of the biggest areas is polymers for biological applications. Can you take a polymer and improve a therapeutic or pharmaceutical drug? Polymers can keep a drug in the body longer, give targeting properties to the drug or aid drug release. You can even combine all of them so you can coat a particle that's going to release a drug with a polymer that's going to target it to where you really want it to be. Polymers are large molecules just like proteins, carbohydrates, DNA and RNA so we can think of them in a similar manner. Another major area is electronics. For example, how to get terabits of memory in mobile phones or make a battery last for 30 years instead of 30 minutes. All of those are polymer problems and by designing the right polymer we can solve them.
You're the editor-in-chief of Polymer Chemistry, which published its first issue earlier this year. What excites you most about your new role?
Polymer Chemistry is an area that has often had a low priority in many chemistry departments. But over the last 10-20 years, the field of polymer chemistry has become more central to the field of chemistry. There have been quite a few noble prizes for polymer chemistry. So an RSC journal devoted to polymer chemistry has been long overdue. The thing that excites me about the role is that it is a versatile journal that can put the best research out there, but more importantly we can target it at the younger scientists, who are often doing the best and most innovative research.
What are the most important factors for encouraging a new generation of scientists?
To be a scientist you've got to have an enquiring mind and not just accept things that people tell you at face value. You should always be questioning 'why is that?' So I'd always encourage someone to find out why things happen. And to look at the problems in the world we live in and try to solve them.
What would be your top tip for someone defending their PhD thesis?
First impressions count so get the little things right. For example, make sure your references are formatted correctly and the layout is nice. If you get these little things wrong the examiner will be looking for other faults.
David Haddleton's Homepage
University of Warwick, UK
External links will open in a new browser window
Investigation into thiol-(meth)acrylate Michael addition reactions using amine and phosphine catalysts
Guang-Zhao Li, Rajan K. Randev, Alexander H. Soeriyadi, Gregory Rees, Cyrille Boyer, Zhen Tong, Thomas P. Davis, C. Remzi Becer and David M. Haddleton, Polym. Chem., 2010, 1, 1196
Assessment of SET-LRP in DMSO using online monitoring and Rapid GPC
Martin E. Levere, Ian Willoughby, Stephen O'Donohue, Anne de Cuendias, Anthony J. Grice, Christopher Fidge, C. Remzi Becer and David M. Haddleton, Polym. Chem., 2010, 1, 1086
Synthesis and evaluation of partly fluorinated polyelectrolytes as components in 19F MRI-detectable nanoparticles
Leena Nurmi, Hui Peng, Jukka Seppälä, David M. Haddleton, Idriss Blakey and Andrew K. Whittaker, Polym. Chem., 2010, 1, 1039
Self-healing polymers prepared via living radical polymerisation
Jay A. Syrett, Giuseppe Mantovani, William R. S. Barton, David Price and David M. Haddleton, Polym. Chem., 2010, 1, 102
Also of interest
A supramolecular azopolymer system for use as high density optical information storage media has been developed by Chinese scientists
UK scientists have created polymers that can repair themselves and could maintain the physical properties of oils for longer
Heather Maynard discusses polymers, proteins and the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration